Not that I’m a big voter (I haven’t yet and don’t plan to. If you must flame me, please post a comment to this entry and don’t e-mail me directly), but I’m disappointed with Washington state over the choice to change their primary election system. For seventy years, the state of Washington has used a “blanket primary” system that allowed voters to choose whoever they felt deserved to make it to the general elections. In the summer of 2000, however, the political parties filed a lawsuit claiming that the blanket primary system, “took away their rights to choose their own nominees.”
After a four year court battle, the United States Supreme Court denied the state’s appeal of a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that declared the blanket primary unconstitutional, essentially striking down Washington’s blanket primary. After more legal shuffling, the “Montana-style” primary system was chosen as the new system for the state of Washington. The new system requires voters to pick one political party (from Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian) and only vote for that party’s candidates. We are assured, however, that party selections will not be documented by the state in any way or recorded on any kind of voter registration form.
“People are angry and they want to know how this happened,” said Sam Reed, Washington’s Secretary of State. “As the chief elections officer, I have a responsibility to tell them.” Voter Gustave Just’s complaint sums up what many Washington voters are feeling, “I would like to express my total disgust and disrespect to the state of Washington for taking away my right to vote for any person in the primary.” [SOURCE]
Reed has taken a lot of flak as a result of this change, but he’s really not to blame. In an attempt to get some answers as to why this system was chosen, I e-mailed Sam Reed. Below are my e-mail and his response in their entirety.
It is well known that you have recently received much harsh criticism over the changing of the Washington primary election from a blanket system to the “Montana primary” system.
At current, I am also rather dismayed at this seemingly sudden change. I understand that, in light of the lawsuit in 2000 by the political parties and the subsequent four year federal court battle, a change was requisite.
What I do not understand, and what I think most voters do not understand, is what benefit the “Montana primary” system has and why the blanket primary system was deemed unconstitutional.
The only real explanation I have heard so far is your declaration that this system, “is designed to protect votes.” However, the statement from which that quote was gleaned neglected to describe how votes would be protected. Moreover, the Undervoted, Overvoted, and Spoiled Ballots Frequently Asked Questions section borders on making the implication that the number of spoiled ballots will rise under the new system. Isn’t that rather counterintuitive? How does losing votes help protect them?
My main argument — and I know I am not the first to bring this up — is that the “Montana primary” system appears to limit the freedom of choice I have as a citizen. What defines America better than our system of government? The very thing that helps make this country so great is our freedom to choose the people we think will best serve us in public office. If we are restricted to one party, how can we ensure the candidates we feel should be in office will get that chance?
I am not at all surprised to hear that many people are considering not voting in protest to this new primary system, after all, to not make a choice is to make a choice.
So I am left with two main questions that, despite press releases, direct mailings and statements to media outlets, have not been answered.
Why was the “Montana primary” system chosen?
What benefit will this system have over other potential systems, especially the seventy-year-old blanket primary system?
If you are able to provide exoteric answers to these questions to both me and the public in general, perhaps fewer people will be angered and confused, and voter turnouts will not suffer their potential fate.
Thomas J. Brown
I share your views that it is a travesty that our blanket primary system has been ruled by the courts to be unconstitutional (for more information about this ruling see link http://www.atg.wa.gov/releases/rel_primary_091503.html). The bottom line is that the Democrat and Republican parties challenged our blanket primary’s constitutionality and won. Once this occurred, the Legislature was forced to make a new primary system into law that would meet constitutionality standards as stated by the courts.
As the Secretary of State, I fought for the blanket primary’s constitutionality. I even took a stand against my own party to do this. When the courts officially declared our beloved blanket primary unconstitutional I introduced a Modified Blanket Primary Bill that would allow voters to have all candidates on one ballot. The top-two vote-getters would then move onto the General Election ballot, to maintain constitutionality. This bill passed and went to Governor Gary Locke for his signature to make it into law.
Unfortunately, Governor Locke chose to veto the Modified Blanket Primary portion of the bill, which forced voters to use a Montana Style Primary. This particular primary system requires that voters choose one party’s ballot. The Washington State Grange did file suit to declare the Governor’s veto action unconstitutional; however, the courts upheld the Governor’s veto. I can’t tell you why the Montana system is better than our blanket primary because I don’t believe it is so. You should ask the Governor and the parties this question.
As the chief election official in our state, I have very grave concerns about our current situation. In the meantime, I have been holding meetings with various County Auditors and other local government officials to do all we can to prepare for and implement the current primary system the Governor enacted. We are doing all we can to educate the voters about the changes in our primary system, including television ads and mailings.
With all of this said, I strongly encourage you to exercise your vote in this election. Your vote is important. Your right to cast a vote is invaluable. I am also displeased with the changes in the primary system; however, I will not allow it to take away one of my most important rights as an American citizen. Please vote.
I also encourage you to contact your legislators (www.leg.wa.gov) and the Governor (www.governor.wa.gov) directly to voice your concerns. They are the ones able to affect changes in state law. Please keep in mind that the Legislators did not vote this new system into law. You will be presented with another primary election system as an initiative to vote on in the General Election. More information about this is on my website.
Secretary of State
Another important question has been raised; is the new primary system constitutional?
So what benefit =does= this new system have? So far the only benefit I see is for minor parties, which are guaranteed a spot on the general election ballot. Why, then, did the Republicans and Democrats fight so hard to get rid of the blanket primary system?
I tend to agree with the people who claim that their rights are being tampered with. I don’t understand how limiting our votes actually gives us greater freedom. As I posited to Mr. Reed in my e-mail to him, if we are restricted to one party, how can we ensure the candidates we feel should be in office will get that chance?
One of my biggest “pet peeves” during this whole ordeal has been the colour system. Supposedly, the colour system will, “help minimize confusion”, but the colours have been chosen by lot! This means that Democrats will use red, Republicans will use green, and Libertarians will use blue. How dumb is that? Everyone already associates Democrats with blue and Republicans with red! Now they’re screwing that up as well!
Before you flame me and call me a hypocrite for saying all this when I don’t even vote, remember, not to decide, is to decide.0 People like this. Be the first!